March fosters community, collective power

 

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Both of us experienced the victory of Donald Trump on Nov. 8th as a body blow. One of us an American citizen, the other a mother of an American daughter now living in New York, we feared for those nearest and dearest to us who would have to live under a Trump presidency. But our hurt was also personal; as women, we watched the dream of a first-woman president be hijacked by a misogynist bigot. The sickening realization that American voters – 60 million of them – had been willing to set aside, or, worse, embrace a man who bragged about assaulting women, was, for many days, impossible to contemplate without feelings of dread and hopelessness. Morning after morning, we awoke with a pit of fear in our guts.

As soon as the Women’s March on Washington was announced, we knew we had to be there. The first gift of the march was to reveal the strength of ties – most immediately, for us, among our academic colleagues – women who responded with alacrity to our queries about staying with them for the weekend. Professional ties suddenly deepened into personal connections as our colleagues blew up their air mattresses for us and the other guests they hosted – a scenario that must have played out across D.C. thousands of times over. “Mi casa es su casa” (“My house is your house”) suddenly took on political resonance.

This sense of community was visceral at the march. The crowd was dense – we were pressed close to the bodies of strangers. But we felt no danger, no sense of threat. When we needed to move, we asked and a path was cleared. We struck up conversations with faces six inches from our own, meeting people from all over the country, hearing their stories, sharing our own. The ages of protestors ranged from teens to activists who had marched in the ‘70s for women’s rights. The connection gave us the feeling a collective wisdom was being built on the ground, in our bodies, as we stood and voiced our resistance not only to sexism, but to racism and xenophobia – to the language of hatred Trump has unleashed on America and the world.

In his farewell speech on Jan. 11, Barack Obama reminded us, “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.” In the early afternoon, the news spread through the crowd the planned march could not proceed; the route was already filled with people. But the marchers were determined; peacefully and deliberately, they moved out into the streets of D.C., chanting and celebrating. Through the streets, in all directions, the march happened. “What does democracy look like?” one chant asked. “This is what democracy looks like,” we answered.

Bullies isolate their victims, sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically, often both. They want their victims to fear confrontation and an escalation of threat. The anxiety and self-doubt a bully instills in his victim prove his best weapons. The Women’s March reminded us we can nurture, in ourselves and each other, the courage we need to face down the bully by creating safe places for each other, by creating chains of human connection like the ones that kept our friends close by as we weaved through the crowds, holding hands with the women ahead and behind us.

The bonds we formed with our friends and all the strangers who shared the space of D.C .with us this weekend must be honoured in the weeks and months ahead; we need to uphold the promise and commitments of the march as we contemplate our next move. Protecting those made vulnerable by Trump’s presidency and advocating for the maintenance of democratic principle in the face of efforts to erode the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the American constitution; these represent the obligations we feel to those who were with us on Saturday, who are with us now in our hearts.

And while you, reader, may feel these concerns are somewhat removed from your own life as a Canadian, take note: At least seven Canadians were denied entry into the U.S. at a Quebec border crossing when they informed American border agents they were planning to attend the march. They were also photographed and fingerprinted. We can anticipate an increase in racial profiling of Canadians seeking entry into the U.S. , and we risk being exposed to a climate of fear and intimidation by Canadian politicians hoping to capitalize on Trump’s victory. Today a petition is circulating asking for signatures to protest President Trump’s plans to cut all funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, a cultural decimation whose effects would exacerbate the crisis facing humanists in Canadian universities. The range of Trump’s assault on the values of both Canadian and U.S. citizenry reaches from the intimacy of the body to the highest aspirations of our collective minds. And so, we write what Gloria Steinem spoke on Saturday, “Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.”

Elizabeth Greene is a professor in the Department of Classical Studies.

Alison Conway is a professor in the Department of English and Writing Studies.

Both women attended the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington, one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump. What started as a grassroots movement to “send a bold message to (the) new administration on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights,” saw millions gather and march around the world. Reports indicate the Washington crowd alone was at least three times larger than the crowd gathered for the inauguration.